Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jezebel (William Wyler, 1938)

The farther back we move into William Wyler’s career the more liberal he seems with camerawork and cinematography. The absence of deep focus in Jezebel leads to dramatic focal contrasts between foreground and background, and he still has a way with framing groups of people in the same shot. However Jezebel is one of the worst costume dramas I’ve seen, Gone With the Wind lite, where every heated moment gives way under the impenetrably thick, false Southern accents, and where every black character is comic relief. Wyler’s New Orleans also lacks much to distinguish itself. The opening dolly shot through a crowded market place is an excellent example of staging and is at least competent at lathering on some regional flavor, but it’s more or less dissociated from the rest of the film. Everything else takes place in manors and banks and ballrooms, and it’s rather interchangeable with the unspecified Georgia setting of Wyler’s The Little Foxes, although that particular film is a far more accomplished work of daring theatrical asceticism. Jezebel overreaches by drawing dubious parallels between Julie (Bette Davis) and the Biblical Jezebel, and the film is unsuccessful at keeping the primary character dynamics within a larger historical context. Maybe if I were to re-watch the film with subtitles I would have liked it more and wouldn’t have zoned out so much, but as it stands, this is my second least favorite Wyler so far.

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